An all-candidates meeting for Perth South will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at South Perth Centennial School near Rannoch, starting at 7 p.m. Candidates for mayor are incumbent Bob Wilhelm and challenger Roger Fuhr, the same two people who were in the running for the position in 2010. There are seven candidates for the three positions representing Blanshard Ward at Council, and five people vying for the three Downie Ward positions. Also at the meeting will be the two candidates for the Avon Maitland District School Board, and the two candidates for the Huron-Perth Catholic board.
Ballots have been sent out in the mail, and people can either mail back in their votes or drop the ballot in a box at the township headquarters in St. Pauls. Mail-in ballots will have to be postmarked by Oct. 17. The drop-off option, however, will remain open up to and including voting day on Oct. 27.
The following are short profiles of six of the candidates.
Bill Adams (Downie): Adams admits to having stepped onto Perth South Council in 2010 with “pretty high expectations,” and having experienced a “huge learning curve” as he began to understand things don’t always happen quickly in municipal politics.
“You learn very quickly that, in a lot of ways, the lower tiers (of government) are really limited in what they can do,” said Adams, who was acclaimed as a Downie Ward councillor in 2010. He says he first became interested in the position due to the concern he felt at the time about the costs Perth South incurred for providing services in built-up areas of Sebringville and St. Pauls.
With four years of experience under his belt, however, he feels the knowledge he has gained will be valuable to Perth South residents. He has been happy to serve on the Downie Recreation Committee and the Perth South and Perth East Fire Board, and would like to broaden his participation on both committees and in other positions.
“It’s very good that so many people have shown interest this time (as compared to 2010),” he said of this year’s ballot. “It’s great to have people concerned about their local government.”
Jim Aitcheson (Downie): Currently serving as Perth South’s Deputy Mayor as well as chair of St. Marys and Area Mobility Services, Aitcheson is in his second term as a councillor. A farmer, he argues the last four years at Perth South “have been relatively successful. Despite all the funding cuts, we’ve still been able to work on fixing roads every year, fixing bridges and culverts. And we’ve put a little more into reserves.”
Last year’s decrease in provincial funding compared to 2012 “would have resulted in a 10 per cent increase,” Aitcheson suggests. “But we were able to keep that down around the two per cent mark and still put a bit into reserves.”
Decisions made by the current Council regarding expansion of the Blanshard landfill facility and the sale of a Perth South-owned gravel pit in Zorra were positive, he says. And “we were also able to realize some significant savings” by partnering up with other jurisdictions on the sourcing of materials for infrastructure projects, as well as heightened efforts to send out tender requests for projects earlier in the year.
But an issue “that’s going to come up again, with the new (County) Official Plan” is the call for easing up on restrictions on surplus farmhouse severances. “We just have to try to build more support (at the County level) and get it through,” Aitcheson says of the concept, which Perth South has already argued could counter the trend of decreased rural population.
“I do have a strong financial background, and I think that’s important dealing with municipal operations,” Aitcheson says. He studied business in school and worked in banking for nine nears, and served as treasurer of the Downie Optimists.
Stuart Arkett (Downie): Contentious issues on the horizon for this veteran councillor include the Trafalgar and Avonfoot Bridges — two nearby structures which could both close, depending on Council decisions.
One thing he has been pushing for is a five-year financial plan — something he believes could make such decisions easier in the future. “We now have the tools through which we can project five years out that we’re going to need this amount this year and this amount next year, and that’s a really handy thing to have . . . At least it gives you a measure of what to expect. And, with the lessening of provincial moneys year after year here, it’s going to get tougher and tougher.”
This year, in the end of their budget deliberations, Council decided to go with a one per cent increase. “I argued against it, but Council votes and we decided. But that sets us back because we don’t have enough money to do what we need to do,” the farmer and apiarist said.
“But that sort of decision making will become more clear if you have a five-year plan.”
This is his fourth term on Council, and he also serves with the Perth East Fire Board and the Quadro Communications board of directors. “I like being in the councillor role . . . (and) I think it’s useful to have some historical perspective on Council.”
Bill Jeffrey (Downie): “There’s lots of reasons, isn’t there?” the Harmony resident said, when asked why he’s running.
Jeffrey is a long-serving member of the Perth County Beef Farmers, and has served in the past as its president. He continues to represent the organization at the provincial level as an alternate delegate.
One issue he has been watching closely is the efforts by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority to have municipal Official Plans altered to reflect updated perspectives on floodplain risks.
“They’re trying to rezone farmland into wetlands, and they really have no jurisdiction to do it on private land,” Jeffrey argues. “They can do it on their own land, and on public land, but not on private land. But nobody knows they’re coming to councils trying to make this happen.”
“All the farm organizations are telling the government and the (Agriculture and Food) Ministry that we’ve got too much red tape,” Jeffrey added. “But every time you turn around, the Council is bringing in more red tape.”
“If I’m elected, I would hold that position in a way that I’m accountable to the way the township spends the money. The staff might not be accountable, but the Council is . . . And with the downloading of more services onto rural areas, we have to be accountable; we have to be very responsible in deciding how we afford these services.”
Dennis Manarey (Downie): Currently the chair of the township’s Economic Development Committee, the St. Pauls resident has lived in the township for 13 years after retiring from a human resources career, and is also involved with the St. Pauls Optimists, the County of Perth’s Accessibility Committee, and St. Marys and Area Mobility Services.
Recent success stories with which he has been involved are the first-ever business networking event held by the Economic Development Committee at the St. Pauls Community Centre, and the Optimist-led construction of accessible washrooms and pathways at that same facility.
“I’ve decided I’d like to take the next step by representing the citizens of Perth South on Council,” he told the Journal Argus.
“One thing he has big hopes for is the expansion of the Ag Ambitions program, which originated in Huron County, into Perth South. Geared towards people between 18-29, with grant money available upper levels of government, the program aims to build awareness of job opportunities in the agricultural sector.
“A lot of the younger people are getting educations and running off to the city,” he said. “We want to see what can be done to bring them back to the farm, or to the family business. We know (this region) is an ag centre, so we’re going to try and work with that.”
Chuck Armstrong (Blanshard): The operator of Anderson Automotive for the past 25 years, Armstrong says the “squabbling” and “personal agendas” that too often were the focus over the past four years meant that not nearly enough was accomplished by the current term of Council.
“I’m interested in what happens in this township,” he said, when asked why he put his name forward for the second consecutive election (Armstrong narrowly lost out in the 2010 vote). “Plus, I’m more interested than maybe some people are in being a team player . . . and getting the work done that’s needed in the community.”
“I don’t know how much difference you can make, unless you can work together.”
Armstrong is concerned about the loss of houses as farmers expand by purchasing neighbouring properties. He’ll push for eased restrictions on surplus farmhouse severances, or other strategies for keeping them standing and becoming homes to additional Perth South residents.
“I’m concerned about our tax base.”
Increasing the number of businesses operating in the township will serve the same purpose — to expand the tax base. And Armstrong vows to work to find creative ways to make that happen.
“We’ve got to open our minds to new ways of generating growth, whether it be new kinds of tax incentives or different approaches to planning,” he says. “We need to open our eyes, open our ears, and open our doors.”
Liz Armstrong (Blanshard): A councillor for two terms, Armstrong says, “I believe I can continue to represent my constituents and act in their best interests for another term.”
As per the Municipal Act, she notes, some of the duties of a councillor are: “a) to represent the public and to consider the well-being and interests of the municipality; b) to ensure that administrative policies, practices and procedures are in place to implement the decisions of Council; c) to ensure the accountability and transparency of the operations of the municipality, including the activities of the senior management.”
“As a councillor I am a very vocal person,” she says. “I ask many questions. If one has read local news articles from the past few years, one would understand my commitment as a councillor.”
Armstrong says she agrees this past term of Council could sometimes be looked back upon as dysfunctional. She adds, however, “even though there was drama at times, I stuck it out and continued to fulfill my obligation as councillor.
“If elected as a Blanshard Ward councillor, I will continue to represent all Perth South residents. I will continue to ask questions of staff and other councillors. I will continue to insist that township staff be accountable to Perth South residents and I will continue to ask the direct and pointed questions.
“I will continue to uphold the duties and responsibilities of a councillor.”
Cathy Barker (Blanshard): “I had more than enough people in Blanshard Township who asked me if I would run again,” Barker explains, when asked why she put her name forward to be elected again as councillor. She won her second term in the 2010 election, but then resigned in 2012 citing the “dysfunctional” nature of Council.
Barker is proud of what she helped accomplish while on Council, including what she described as the modernization of the township office in St. Pauls — both in technical terms, as well as the way staff is organized. She also led up a cooperative effort between Perth South and the University of Guelph’s School of Economic Design and Rural Development, which sought to discover ways of bringing economic development into predominantly rural and agriculture-based Ontario jurisdictions.
“We need to explore outside options that will help us move forward with economic development,” said Barker, who farms and operates a seed sales business with her husband.
Along with that, she stresses, there must be initiatives for encouraging young people to either stay in Perth South and find work, or return to Perth South after studying elsewhere.
At the other end of the age continuum, meanwhile, Barker has been intrigued to observe as the provincial government continues its push to have senior citizens living in their own homes for longer before moving to long term care or hospital.
“The township needs to be aware of this provincial mandate as it relates to us here in Perth South, and we need to do what we can to help people stay in their homes.”
Sam Corriveau (Blanshard): “I just thought it was an opportunity to get involved in the community,” explained the former owner of Sam’s Home Hardware in St. Marys, who lives just north of town.
The removal of farmhouses from secondary farm properties is a concern for Corriveau. “Revenue is being lost,” he said. “They’re working on (surplus farmhouse severances) as a county. But I’d like to see more work done on that.”
A member of the township’s Economic Development Committee, he adds that Perth South needs to examine opportunities to expand its industrial base. “I’d like to see us attract good jobs to keep our young people around. We need more of our young people to stay here or come back to here. And the only way you can do that is to have good paying jobs.”
Bill Haynes (Blanshard): “There are a lot of things that really have gone on in Council that haven’t been resolved to my satisfaction,” the Rannoch resident said of the current Perth South Council. “We need some fresh perspectives, in my opinion.”
Among the topics that Haynes believes there was not enough information provided to the public were the allegations of harassment against two members of Council towards township staff, as well as the disappearance of a computer hard drive from the township office.
“I’ve been keeping track of what’s going on for a few years now, basically since I retired from being a truck driver,” he says. “And there are some things that have to be straightened out.”
Living across the river and up the hill from the proposed Transvaal pit, he’s also concerned about the possible effects on the ecosystem and roadways if it’s approved. As a councillor, he would like to aid the Transvaal community members in fighting against the pit.
Haynes, who says part of his inspiration for running for Council was the service of the late Don Henderson, who passed away in July, 2014 during his first term as an elected municipal councillor. And one of the issues Haynes vows to keep an eye on — efforts by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority to see the scope of scope of floodplain restrictions expanded in municipal Official Plans — is something Henderson also championed.
“Some of the stuff (conservation authorities) are doing — starting to place restrictions on a lot of the people and their land uses — it’s usurping their authority a little bit.”
Melinda Zurbrigg (Blanshard): She was appointed to Council in 2012 following the resignation of Cathy Barker. She currently sits on the Economic Development Committee.
“I definitely want, with some of the things that we’ve discussed over the past couple of years at Council and at the committee, to see them through,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of talk in Economic Development about how to keep the youth here. They go off to school; how do we bring them back? We’re facing a population decline; how do we counteract that?”
Zurbrigg, who works at home just north of St. Marys raising her young children, sees herself “as an advocate for the younger generation in the community . . . Since I’ve been on Council, I’ve had so many people ask me about it — at the arena or lots of places — and I think there are more people interested than there ever were before.”
She, too, is concerned about “getting dictated to by County Council and by the UTRCA,” as well as the red tape people must go through to expand economic opportunities in the township.
Doug Hicks (Blanshard) “I’m sick and tired of this Council that we have right now,” says the Prospect Hill resident, a retired Bell Canada employee. “They can’t seem to do anything. I’m hoping if we can get enough new people in, we can change things.”
“If I get in, I can’t promise anything. If you make promises, you can’t keep them,” Hicks admitted. “But if somebody calls me and they have something they’re concerned about, I’m going to look into it. That’s what Council should be there for.”
He argues a failure to keep costs in check “is affecting all of us in Perth South. People don’t realize, and they end up running the budget different than a household budget. When people get in Council, they don’t seem to care. ‘We’re going to do it, no matter if we go in debt’.”
For him, “you stick to a budget. You don’t deviate from it because then you get in trouble.”